Secret Agent Man

Dear Daniel,

Before I go anywhere else, it’s probably an idea to admit the following and then move on.

Considering you’re stupidly famous, it is possible you’re not aware that some husbands and wives often have conversations where it is implied that should circumstances allow, and the seemingly unattainable celebrity you lust/desire/dream about were ever available for a night of commitment-free passion, you’d be granted a free pass from your spouse with no questions asked. My List, such as it is, remains fairly short, and by now you’ve guessed what’s coming. For quite a while, you used to sit at the top. However, sometime between the filming of ‘Quantum of Solace’ and ‘Skyfall’ that all changed. On considered reflection I suspect the precise shift occurred about six to nine hours after I saw Bond 23 for the first time on DVD. I was unwell, and that afternoon was a turning point for a lot of personal expectation, including a half finished attempt at redefining the Bond genre in my own mind.

In summary? You were once an object of desire, but now have become something far more significant. With the embarrassing shit out of the way? Time to explain why I’m really writing.

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I’d wanted Julian McMahon as Bond when your predecessor was effectively removed from the frame at the start of the century. I’ll grant there were excessively selfish reasons for this choice, but when you look at who else was up for the job, I think giving it to an Australian would not have been too bad a shout. I’ve been a dedicated fan of Bond since ‘Goldfinger’, fell in love with Roger Moore in the 70’s and promptly concluded that Connery was never my type. There was, I’ll freely admit, a brief flirtation with Timothy Dalton, but like so many other people I considered Pierce Brosnan the logical and natural choice to bring everyone back to the right point, where men wanted to be 007 and women needed to sleep with him, no questions asked. The character, like it or not, remained the fictional owner of a guaranteed spot on the Spousal Pass card. That is until you came along, and changed Bond into something better.

It wasn’t just the reboot of the franchise that caused this to happen, or the change in narrative direction. What you gave the agent from ‘Casino Royale’ onwards was something that had not previously existed with any incarnation of the character: fallibility. I’ll grant you, I totally understand why Barbara Broccoli gave you the nod after ‘Layer Cake.’ When you emerged from the sea in Barbados as Ursula Andress did in ‘Dr No’… honestly, you’d have to be dead not to get that you were being presented as a Bond meant to attract both sexes, but for vastly different reasons, and it worked until this version of the plot arc was finally exhausted. Once you were seen to move past Vesper Lynd’s death in ‘SPECTRE’, there was nowhere else left to go, and shoving Bond off into the sunset with a woman half his age is probably the way a lot of men would ideally choose to retire.

In all the times between, you gave Bond a set of balls he’d never owned before.

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That’s no mean feat for a genre that made its name on a hero whose whole existence was inextricably bound with misogyny. It was a label I sense that never really sat well with your incarnation either, and that alone makes all the films you leave behind vastly superior to pretty much everything Moore did after ‘Live and Let Die’ and makes Connery’s efforts post ‘You only Live Twice’ look frankly a bit dodgy. It’s ironic therefore you have so much in common with the guy nobody ever remembers in the line-up: George Lazenby. There’s a 007 who gets the girl at the end and has her snatched from him in perhaps the cruellest way possible, and it is easy to see how echoes of Diana Rigg’s immensely strong and equal to Bond in all ways portrayal of the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo appears in Lynd and later Camille Montes.

There’s flashes of that strength in the 90’s Bond girls, undoubtedly, but honestly it takes a very long time after ‘Goldfinger’ before there is anybody who is credibly written as a genuine counter to Bond. Wei Lin in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ is probably the only time for me that a sense of female equality in terms of both physical and mental prowess is presented, and that’s yet to be bettered even by Eve Moneypenny in the current iteration… mostly because of that decision to stick her behind a desk at the end of ‘Skyfall.’ What your Bond has done, undoubtedly, is re-establish the canon, but equality’s still at the stage it was in the late 1990’s. We know the Chinese have agents in service, but not the Brits. Where’s the believable, confident and physically capable equal? Yeah, I know: if we had that, as one of my friends pointed out recently I’d be watching ‘Mission Impossible.’ You work alone, and it’s been that way since the late 1950’s.

Perhaps everybody could do with moving that agenda on as a matter of urgency.

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If I were a betting woman, having seen the roles you’ve lined up post ‘SPECTRE’, I’d wager you’re pretty fed up of 007, and I really can’t say I blame you one iota. The last two minutes of that movie will become the epitaph to a role that, however diverse and well-acted, is likely to haunt you for the rest of your professional career, and if this were me I’d go all out to amend that. The concept of Bond is going to be extremely hard to reboot regardless: then you’ll need the right person up front to head it, and looking at the raft of ‘young’ talent on offer, honestly, nobody will do it as well as you did, because they’ll be living a lie you were the last person to successfully dispel. Maybe, after 50 years, it is finally time to call it a day for the lone wolf. It’s no wonder Eon don’t want to announce Bond 25 for a while yet.

I should point out at this juncture that I think I’m also probably done with 007 for good. Nobody’s gonna do the character the justice you’ve left as the benchmark, or equal that sense of underlying discomfort given to a character who was willing to give up everything and never allowed a chance to be happy. He just went back to the job, in the end realising that Mallory was right in ‘Skyfall’ and he should have stayed dead. The best way to leave, undoubtedly, was when Bond was on top. I’m really looking forward to seeing how you shape up in ‘Purity’ by the way: the book has a great deal of potential and in the post-Obama, internet leak/Russian hacked world we now inhabit, it could make a lot of people think. I’m also wishing I’d been in New York to see you play Iago, because I’m also fairly confident you’d have imbued that character with the true understated menace he deserves.

However, there is one other thing I should thank you for before I go, and it has nothing to do with your professional career. Without you, I would never have given Radiohead the time of day, but to know they were a band you loved was a subtle poke to my own brain to expand horizons and listen to new things. Without doubt, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is now one of my favourite albums of the last ten years. Then there’s the small matter of inspiring me to write two full-length fan fictions based around the best 007 that’s ever been stuck on celluloid… which in turn has opened a door to a much larger Universe. The confidence and abilities I’ve honed in those two pieces is serving me well as I produce a novel I’m both proud and pleased with. I’m well aware of how much both those things were influenced by a character I’m betting you’d rather I shut up about now, so I will.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I get that whole ‘fuck off, leave me alone, I’d like my privacy’ stuff more than I suspect most will. It’s not a fault, but a strength in character. Bond is the job, and it’s not you. The sooner more people realise this in the World, the better life will be for everybody, and maybe you can go have a drink from time to time in peace.

Thank you for making me a better person, regardless of the role.

Alt.

PS: I’m still jealous you got to park your arse on a DB10. There, I said it.

DEFAULT :: Part Forty-Five

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SIX


Life has become a series of random moments with transportation as the constant: Bond likes to imagine them set to music, as if this were some sweeping drama in which he is simply an extra and never the lead. Today that means Ride of the Valkyries as this RAF Merlin helicopter skirts a still sleeping Thai coastline, heading to a hastily-rescheduled debriefing on HMS Ocean. Felix looks decidedly queasy opposite, holding far too tightly to the support straps, while 007 is the undisputed owner of controlled yet dismissive languor. He hates flying with a passion, mostly because in 90% of cases he’s not the one behind the stick. If he pushes the point and can sit up front, it becomes a tolerable distraction. The desire to do so has slowly begun to rise, as that allows total control and no-one else in the equation. Next time, he’ll pull rank and do just that.

Things get considerably more bearable when he spies Moneypenny in McQueen on the deck of the carrier, Charlie LaCroix’s nondescript khaki shorts plus Hawaiian shirt amazingly not an utter fashion disaster. Bond is smiling despite himself, as realisation dawns there’s pleasure seeing them both, that this means after refuelling and meetings there’ll be conversation and catchup on the way to their final rendezvous. Travelling with both will be good for everyone.

Stepping out of the Merlin, Moneypenny salutes as is correct, because he outranks her. It’s become something of a standing joke between them, and Bond can’t help but grin as formal becomes a hug that’s been sorely missed.

‘At ease, Moneypenny and who told Charlie that shirt was a good idea?’

‘I did. I bought it for him because he could do with expanding his horizons. He’s not the only one.’

Eve stares at Bond with a look he’s fairly certain isn’t genuine contempt, sudden wish there was something other than the uniform to fall back on in such situations.

‘Don’t let women dress you, 009, it’ll undoubtedly end in tears.’

‘You’re better attired than anyone I know, 007, I think maybe you’re setting the standard too high for the rest of us.’

Charlie’s handshake gets more confident with each meeting and Bond’s watching Felix reacquainting himself with solid ground and 003, more pleasure at both than he’d expect from an ex CIA operative. These people were far more emotional and distinct than 007 had ever realised: had it always been this way? At what point had this job stopped being simply a means to an end? Perhaps they weren’t the problem: maybe he’d never taken the time to notice their frailties before. When he thinks about how pale and tense Ronni had seemed even over a camera the night before…

‘James?’

Eve is staring, head tipped, and this is the moment to share specifically edited news of his conversation over the uplink with the group.

‘I spoke to Veronica last night.’

At the use of her name Charlie is immediately alert: Bond understands that he’ll be quizzed by various people on what took place. It is effortless to remove emotion from the situation, but her fragility bothers him, even in the heat of early morning. Waking alone never used to be an issue, but now there’s a preferable alternative, that ought to be the default.

‘How’s 004 doing?’

‘Not well. She’s struggling mentally, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about her welfare. Now we know where Christian is heading, I’m going to suggest to London they let her and Q come home.’

‘I’ll happily second that, we really need them both back with us, assuming the plan now is to go for Spectre’s throat. Oh, and for the record? You’re really lucky to have Ronni here to save your ass. I promised her I’d tell you that and I have, and now I need more caffeine to get through Tanner’s debrief than I suspect this boat’s currently carrying.’

Taking the luggage without a word, Leiter’s already steering LaCroix away, smile reminding that payment remains due for standing ‘guard’ the night before. The noise of the Carrier’s only brief distraction: Eve takes his hand, pulling 007 away from activity plus the previous evening’s concerns, back to their moment.

‘She’s going to be fine, and we’ll all support the move to push for her return. You said it yourself, she’s stronger than all of us. Ronni will cope, and be back before you know it.’

‘I never really considered the consequences of this life before until it got taken out of my hands. I hate not being able to help her.’

‘But you do, without even realising. Without you, she’s just not complete. That’s why this relationship works so well.’

Bond wants to ask at what point his life became public property, but already knows the answer. What is required now is free time and privacy, and neither will be forthcoming in the immediate future. However he is an expert at patience, and will wait, doing his utmost to get Ronni in from the field as soon as is conceivably possible.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Forty-Three

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She stares, digesting the truth probably only thought and not spoken out loud until now.

‘What happens then?’

‘That depends a lot on you.’

‘It does?’

‘I need you in the same room before making those kind of choices seriously.’

Her heart is beating so fast, sudden adrenaline rush that is impossible to ignore. This isn’t passion, something more: inevitably at the revelation brain presents a counter, as it has every time before. You don’t need a happy ending to do this job. A man’s love is not required to make you complete. Veronica is worthwhile and relevant without either. Except this time, Ronni stares at the man half a world away and grasps that this is no longer the case.

Veronica can also be worthwhile, relevant and care.

Her hand goes to the screen, touching him as he returns her gesture, staring with the realisation that whatever happens now, this is no longer just business. Neither is there pleasure after the fact, but before, and that created something new and different, frightening in a moment alone than anything else felt in an entire lifetime.

Her desire to embrace the truth is suddenly inescapable, and so Veronica gives in.

‘When the uplink kicked in and you were mid… what were you thinking -‘

‘That night after your first successful mission. In my flat.’

‘The hallway?’

‘No, sofa.’

Their shared moment flares to consume: warmth of hands on naked back, him still wearing the crisp white work shirt, but naked from the waist downwards. He’d collected her from Heathrow and they’d fucked up against the front door, quick and dirty, and now he wanted to enjoy her at leisure. Ronni’s eyes close, arousal tasted fresh and sweet, watching mouth moving from one breast to the other, tip of tongue flicking spikes of pleasure straight into her sex. As she had ground down he’d thrusted up and body shudders uncontrollably with the memory, need overwhelming and finally unrestrained.

‘Ronni?’

‘Last night I had to lie to a stranger, and as I fucked him all I wanted was you. I can’t escape this, and don’t want to. Please just help me feel alive again. Please.

This wasn’t how she’d expected anything to play out: he’d be the one to chance his arm and now she was pleading, desperation driving, tiredness and emotional stress overflowing and the tears are bitter, painful horror. What is required is out of her reach, beyond ability, and she cannot stop shaking as arms surround her that aren’t his, yet again she imagines they are. Finally the tears stop and there are two men staring, concern from both all too obvious.

‘Q, what are you doing?’

‘I was working, waiting for an algorithm, I heard you crying and I needed to make it stop. Bond, I hope you don’t object to my intrusion?’

‘Not at all, Q.’

‘I… wasn’t expecting this to-‘

‘Ronni, 007 knows what you most desperately need, and I suspect you do too. I’m going to consider what happens from here on in as essential field work, and that you both require a particular form of relaxation off the clock. I’ll look the other way, both literally and metaphorically, knowing not only can I handle a Baretta with some confidence, but that I’m really not expecting any disturbances tonight. However, to make you feel better I’m going to go outside and stand guard until I know your uplink’s expired.’

The gesture is oddly comforting, knowing she’s not responsible at this point brings a relief that comes as a surprise in Ronni’s mind. Looking to Bond, there remains concern that she may not be the only person who’d require guarding.

‘Are you likely to be disturbed, James?’

‘If it helps I can ask Felix to stand outside my door. He’ll love that.’

‘He’d do that for you?’

‘You know, knowing him as I do, all he’ll need to know is that you require the reassurance.’

Both men are gone and Ronni’s suddenly alone, shedding clothing without a thought, knowing she’d come close to an emotional overload. Once what had happened with Marc was negated, it would be easier to move on, and were this London, that’s what she and 007 would do. There wouldn’t need to be sessions with Gregory, or a long drawn-up report on what had transpired. She knew how to be stronger, and that was with James inside her. There is a genuine laugh at the double-entendre despite the situation, and undoubted understanding she wanted to go home. Not for the dirt and noise in London, or the comfort of her own bed. She needs James wrapped around her for longer than the downtime between missions.

Like it or not, she‘d let him into a willing heart without a fight.

Bond returns to camera, this time dropping the towel at the side of the bed, and the room becomes undoubtedly warmer.

‘I told Felix the utter truth, and once he stopped laughing was surprisingly willing to oblige. You can check when we see you in Paris. That’s where Christian’s heading, and where we’ll finish this together. I know Q’s done with Beam’s data, you don’t need to be dead any more. They’re going to bring you back. I’ll make sure of it.’

She unclips her bra and lets breasts fall free, body finally naked and relaxed, and Bond doesn’t stare, instead his eyes close. There is a shift closer to the camera, whisper to her mind.

‘Nobody touches you here except me. No-one will ever hurt you while I’m this close. I promise.’

Leaning back she‘s imagining his hands tracing patterns across stomach, back in the Pimlico flat that night she’d confronted him over Maddy. Their kiss had been so strong and passionate it ignites as fuel, means to tie disparate moments together, convenient montage to increase arousal in her brain. The many moments Bond had treated with respect at the Barracks, augmented with visual highlights carried across the globe. The morning she’d watched him shower for five minutes without a thought and couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. The Paul Smith tuxedo which made him look almost edible. Then there is a rapid replay of their couplings: at his flat, two days at hers after the first round of Skyfall clean-up, that weekend in early Octoberstanding in her bedroom, wearing just his dress shirt, watching James stare with desire that was inescapable and frankly addictive.

‘I didn’t realise how much I missed you until you’d gone. I should have made you stay, never let you go.’

The voice whispers from the laptop but he’s in her head, standing with hand on stomach, that first night they joined. Her preference is being fucked from behind, slow and measured, until the inside of her body screams, and that’s what‘s now imagined. It’s not her fingers manipulating, arms bending willing body across the back of his sofa, thrusting and rubbing, tender rhythm of need that takes an already tense body to new levels of sensitivity. The taste of diesel finally vanishes, replaced by whiskey, mouth pushed into hers, kiss blossoming into sensation now desperately craved.

It has been a very long time since an orgasm happened without electronic aid but she’s very close as body begins to shudder, internal spasm and external fire colliding, losing ability to remain silent as desperate gasps echo around the dense stone walls, hearing Bond cry out before a sudden burst of electronic noise. As her orgasm fades, Ronni grasps the uplink has gone, satellite inexorable in its movement across the Earth, and she’s laughing at the ridiculousness of the life she’d wanted so badly for so long.

As the adrenaline quietly dissipates, sleep embraces a body beyond exhausted.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Forty-Two

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As the laptop’s clock crawls towards 22.00, 004 sits alone, watching the uplink software refresh every fifteen seconds and wondering how 007 has been, uncertain of how this moment might play out. She’s certainly not expecting the satellite’s transmission to kick in early: as protocols establish a connection there is sound from the inbuilt speakers that causes the most arousing of double takes. About to check the connection, uncertain at what’s being heard, picture abruptly resolves as audio makes perfect sense. The reason for both becomes immediately and amusingly apparent, and all Ronni can do is stare in disbelief.

Bond’s got bored waiting, and is very much involved in a more creative way of wasting time.

The fact she’s caught him in flagrante is a surprise too glorious to interrupt, even if his position to camera doesn’t give a totally unimpeded view. The soundtrack is enough to make her entire body liquefy in short order, but this moment’s all too brief. His gasp at orgasm tells the story: he’s done, probably the perfect moment to announce her presence.

‘Can I assume you’re finished?’

There’s panic from bedside as Bond registers the webcam is on, before losing balance completely, vanishing from sight with a thump. Ronni’s laughing, despite herself, embarrassment and pleasure combined as he clearly scrabbles off camera for composure before hitting something against furniture with a thump, emitting a loud ‘FUCK.’ Finally there’s a response, ignominy apparent from thousands of miles away.

‘Can I assume you found my efforts entertaining?’

‘You didn’t know the line was live, did you?’

‘I wasn’t really concentrating on the laptop.’

Finally he appears, towel hastily wrapped around midriff, and Ronni knows they’ve crossed a previously untrodden path. Masturbation could well be considered as recreationally acceptable for a 00 agent, but hardly activity you’d report back to London whilst undercover. She has to ask though, if only to prolong the torture a little longer.

‘You’ve never done that for an audience, have you?’

‘I wasn’t aware I was then, but I’m assuming you saw everything?’

‘There was enough context, imagination did the rest.’

‘This is not how I expected this exchange to begin.’

‘We both enjoyed it, that’s all that matters.’

Staring at the man he looks far better than expected, mostly because Bond’s in control, freshly showered and on a real bed. Ronni wishes she could will herself through the ether just for those luxuries, quite apart from the company.

‘I’m sorry, I’m not at my best right now.’

‘I don’t know, you look amazing for a woman who’s been dead nearly two months.’

‘I’m glad you knew the truth.’

‘As am I, having to spin that lie with conviction was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.’

‘I saw the news reports, Q played me the funeral. You’re a very credible actor.’

‘Tanner wanted to make sure we didn’t give Spectre even the thought that you might both still be alive. If we did…’

‘Did you write my obituary?’

‘That was Moneypenny’s job. It was outstanding. Words have never been my forte, I’m a deeds man.’

‘Yes, you are.’

‘Happy Birthday, Veronica. You can have that opening five minutes as an extra gift.’

They can both laugh, while the silence that follows is comfort and reassurance. Ronni sits, staring at him, grateful he’s capable and active. If that wasn’t true MI6 would not have sent him after his ex-girlfriend’s half brother, and that means that she can probably broach the subject without overly worrying over consequence.

‘When did you know Maddy was a fraud?’

‘The morning before the Stag night. I’d had my suspicions, that was when I was certain. I should have told you myself and not left it to M.’

‘You never have to apologise to me, really you don’t.’

‘That’s not true. I was selfish and rude at the restaurant, neither are ever warranted. I missed you. I still do.’

The simplicity of his admission is a surprise, and Ronni’s impressed her body’s continuing to be aroused, but there it is, as he leans back on the edge of the bed, inviting her gaze. Leaner than she remembers, there is undoubtedly more definition to muscles apparent even on camera, and only then does it register that he might be pushing himself again to make a point.

‘There are a lot of things I should have said to you before all of this happened, but only one is really important. When I was recovering after you saved me, there was a lot of time to think. After we first met I couldn’t compromise your position, even when I wanted to. This job doesn’t normally give you the luxury of getting to know your lovers. Most of the time you’re forced into action by circumstance. With the exception of Moneypenny, who I have never slept with, I now understand you are the only other female friend that’s ever mattered. I think I’m more scared of losing that than of anything else in my life.’

‘I promise I won’t go anywhere, you have my word. When Q stuck us together for my last assignment before I became a 00, I think he made a mistake.’

‘Why?’

‘I always thought I’d never need anyone to celebrate with. I’d assumed this job was about being alone, but now I know I’m wrong. I can do it on my own, but it doesn’t make me happy.’

‘What does?’

‘Having you to do it with. Knowing someone truly understands.’

The honestly is brutal and necessary, providing immediate relief. This is not a conventional relationship by any means or definition, but that’s what they have. The tears fall without a thought and she just wipes them away, watching him stare with the same vulnerability recalled when positions were reversed, the day her predecessor and his mentor were buried.

‘Yes, our employer thought of everything, made the whole dance both rational and acceptable. Friendship plus. I hear Q even made a briefing.’

‘He loves to use up to date metrics, is brilliant and caring in the field and undoubtedly the best handler I’ve ever known. You’d be proud.’

‘His heart and commitment have never been in question. I wasn’t sure how to deal with him until he turned up unannounced in Austria. We need more agents like you both and no more like me.’

‘Does that mean you’re really done?’

‘If I survive? Absolutely done.’


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

DEFAULT :: Part Forty-One

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Ronni stares, not able to comprehend what Q is suggesting, and this disbelief must be apparent because the man gets up, going to retrieve a laptop which must have been liberated from Bulgari’s compound. Obviously prepared for this eventuality, Andrew comes to sit beside her.

‘I did wonder if you’d grasp the significance of what’s happened since our enforced extraction from the real world. I’ve been able to keep up to date with progress as I’ve worked, but you’ve had little or no exposure to what I’ve seen. I think now however, this is the moment to change that. Let me show you what’s been going on since we died.’

Q’s skill with a computer does not just cover the technical: as she’s seen at the Barracks, it also includes an innate ability to use skills to tell stories using the vastness of media the Internet presents. On the screen is constructed a timeline, begun at the moment of the explosion in Venice: Italian authorities denouncing Spectre publicly, high-profile arrests of leading mob bosses, prompting French and German governments to follow suit. There’s the Prime Minister, visibly upset, attacking Spectre by name in an address at the United Nations, vowing that the British people would never be shattered by ‘maniacs, lunatics and fanatical power-crazed warmongers.’ Then there is the funeral, and Ronni has to struggle to remain impassive as she watches Bond gunned down in such public view. MI6 use the moment as their spark, urging the rest of the World to accept the existence of Spectre and to join their fight to eradicate the organisation once and for all.

It is M however who moves her to tears, speech to awaiting press as he flies to France to consult with security services, a man who blames the death of his predecessor on the criminal organisation with an anger she’s never encountered before. Then there is the quiet and brutal promise that ‘nothing will be compromised to ensure that the man in charge is located and then bought to justice.’ Overnight, Christian Swann becomes as notorious a criminal as the World had seen: when the US President cancels her vacation forty eight hours after M’s speech to pledge support to the UK’s efforts, the entire landscape irrevocably changes. Q’s pride that he was part of the process is apparent even without the evidence to support it, but that doesn’t stop him making the point.

‘You’ll note that this shift from the US was in direct response to the data I provided London on key Spectre operatives within the President’s own party, the NRA and number of major US Pharmaceutical companies. Once they realised how dangerous the potential was for chaos amongst the faithful? A female Republican Commander in Chief has enough to worry about without being divided and conquered from within.’

‘It was hard enough for her to get there to begin with. I’d understand the desire to throw weight behind anyone wanting to remove corruption from anywhere.’

‘Getting the Americans to admit anything has never been easy, 004. Providing a truth that cannot be ignored, as you demonstrated during training, is by far the most effective approach to making a point.’

Everything since is a procession of news reports, newspaper headlines and You Tube sound bites from local news organisations: Spectre thwarted at every turn, notable members taking their own lives rather than be captured, turned in by friends and in a couple of cases lovers. From Washington DC to Madrid, Edinburgh to Marseilles, the stories are the same: the first step away from oppression brings freedom, and unexpected consequences. Ronni notes the headline in Le Monde that recruitment to the French Armed Forces is up, that this trend may well be repeated elsewhere. There’s also several stories on a joint British-French security treaty which rings vague bells from a briefing after the capture of Bloefeld. The Gendarmerie had something big up their elegantly tailored sleeves, which MI5 had considerable interest in…

The truth however is inescapable: even if she’d not seen it, the World had changed whilst Ronni had been dead, so much to the better. The sense of calm this instils is the most pleasant of surprises, and far more needed than perhaps at first grasped. This isn’t doing the job and having simple satisfaction in the consequences: life would no longer be the same for millions of people. It would be better: less drama and hardship, oppression and tyranny put on notice. This wasn’t just rhetoric or empty promises either. They’d promised to send a message, and that cry to action was echoing around the planet.

‘You’re weren’t lying to bolster my spirits.’

‘Or indeed to assuage my ego. As you can see, this is the honest truth. We have made considerably more than a difference, and yet nobody will ever know it was us.’

Ronni can’t help but smile at the man next to her, not just because he could conjure up a chocolate mousse out of thin air when she needed it most. It had felt like a fight, place to place, no way of knowing they were changing the course of a campaign that stretched across the globe. To have made such a difference was significant, but there was still much left that qualified as unknown.

‘You said ‘what we know about’ and that means what, exactly?’

‘There’s a great deal on Beam’s hard drive that as yet makes no sense, and I suspect I may need Felix for context. I’m waiting to be advised by London as to what happens next. However, as of about an hour ago, there’s a video on You Tube produced by MI6 that announces a raft of significant changes to the Service. After my death, London have formally announced Rachel Frasier’s been appointed as my very public successor, which is not a total fabrication. What it means is that the cover’s again secure, and the pressure on us is lifted. With Frasier taking centre stage for Quartermaster activity, I can continue my work when we return under far less scrutiny.’

‘Which is what you should be doing and not taking to me.’

‘I liberated a fair few items from Mr Bulgari’s home, including this second machine and some extremely efficient solar power cells. I can work all night should I need to, and it means I’ll be able to expedite the last portion of my mission with far greater speed. However, I have one more birthday gift to offer, should you desire it.’

‘Why am I suddenly nervous, Q?’

‘There’s a US intelligence satellite that passes over us at 21:00 CET which I have an access code for. That will make it 04:00 in Bangkok and I can guarantee Bond won’t be asleep. You could at least say hello, and he gets to wish you Happy Birthday.’

Q’s already getting up, preparing to work for the evening, and Ronni knows how well she’ll sleep before then with a full meal inside her. There’s no argument either: she’ll take the 21:00 watch, and make the decision on whether to talk to Bond or not when the time comes.


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DEFAULT :: Part Forty

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Dinner is finished, and without doubt the best thing Ronni has tasted for a very long time. Warm flatbread with wild garlic and goat’s cheese that Q seemed to have produced from nowhere was followed by a rich and deep Pasta and Game Stew she knows was augmented by a bottle of red wine. Then, presented in bowls made of leaves, unbelievably, was chocolate mousse, and Ronni’s not even going to ask how Andrew pulled that off under their present circumstances. It can remain the culmination of an amazing afternoon, reminder that the man sitting cross legged opposite her on a broken flagstone floor is so much more than a brilliant Civil Service employee.

They sit together in the ruins of this house, late afternoon sun shafting through the rafters, conversation temporarily lost as they’d eaten dessert with Marco Bulgari’s pilfered spoons. No longer two colleagues, this friendship makes both stronger, and that alone makes the remainder of their endeavour more than worthwhile. Except now she knows what he’s thinking, mostly because Ronni refused to vocalise the concern for herself, and had shut him down before the main course had been served. Andrew’s not done with his analysis yet, that much is abundantly apparent.

‘Bond’s regard for you has always been impeccable. Nobody else gets treated quite the same way.’

‘I’m not in love with him, despite what you might think. Using that word in either of our worlds can never be entertained: I’ve seen what happens to him when you introduce commitment to an equation.’

‘And yet, I’d argue that’s what he ultimately craves. You are his barometer, touchstone and when both London and his fiancée appeared to desert him, genuine salvation.’

‘James doesn’t need somebody else to provide any notion of worth. That’s his job. He has to stop and think, eventually, understand that the only way existence ever changes is if he breaks the cycle. He can sleep with whoever he likes, live commitment free ’til he dies, but eventually when it all ends, and it will, the choice is his alone. If he is the job as you say, then that’s a constant since the first day you gave him the number. That is his wife, mistress, and love nobody will ever replace. I crave him, I won’t lie. That support is addictive and when fuelled by him there’s nothing I can’t do. However, without it I can be better, stronger and ultimately free. If the same is true for James, the best thing I’ll ever do is keep him at arm’s length.’

‘Is that the absolute truth?’

‘I’d like a chance to do this properly for a decade, maybe more if my health allows. Assuming we survive this and he finally retires? I could make the difference you told me the Service needed, take what Bond has given me and create something better than this 50 year old standard that the establishment insist stays foremost for everybody. But you know better, and so do I.’

‘You didn’t answer the question, Ronni.’

‘He’s my missing piece. Nobody will ever come close to being what he is to me. I’ll make him wait, insist ways are at least reconsidered. I’d want him to cook like this, but I’d never tie him down or impose choices. In the end, he has to be the one who decides we are in love, and I doubt he’ll ever be able to use that word successfully ever again. Because… you made him too well. His M was the mother craved so badly, still listened to even when she died. I may be the latest constant, but I can’t be Madeline, or Vesper. They’re not me. He has to take me as I am.’

‘You don’t need a man to be complete.’

She can’t respond instantly this time, leaning back against the cooling stone wall. Is Q right? Is that the reason she is what this has now become?

‘I sometimes sit and wonder what would have happened if Scott hadn’t died, what direction my life would have taken. I realise now, I’d never have come this far, I’d be married having never considered my dream as a child: it would have been just that and nothing more. Without love as distraction, so much would have been lost, and I realise that perhaps this is the biggest sacrifice a 00 ever makes in their career. Happiness comes from the relationship with the number. That’s how this works best. For those of us with emotional deficits, there has to be somewhere to make up for the shortfall.’

‘I think Bond could really benefit from hearing that from you. I doubt Gregory imparting that information at this stage would be either useful or productive. Coming from you however, it might effectively register. Would you be prepared to try?’

‘I assumed Bond’s assassination was to show Spectre that 007’s really dead.’

‘That’s not an entirely accurate summation.’

‘Okay, so you have lied to me. Where is he now, exactly?’

‘Bangkok. He and Felix have been removing Spectre’s influence across the far east with customary thoroughness, assisted by Mr Beam’s recently decrypted guide to who’s who in in the villain hierarchy.’

‘I bet Leiter is having the time of his life right now.’

‘He’s liaising between London and Langley as M pretty much refuses to trust anyone else until I can finally decrypt the CIA/FBI joint NOC list. I’m 90% done, if you’ll take the first watch tonight that will be in Washington’s hands before the morning, and once that happens Spectre’s position becomes more than precarious. In fact, with the events of the last seven days?’

‘We get to own the high ground, because I’m betting you know where Christian is?’

‘LaCroix and Moneypenny’s effectiveness as a unit has been a revelation. You were absolutely right, granting them both 00 status was a master stroke. They’ve tracked him to Paris and are currently working with the authorities not only to secure their intelligence services integrity, but to remove any remains of his corruption. Give them another week and at their success rate, we’ll have the enemy in full retreat.’

‘We’ve made a difference?’

‘Me not being locatable thanks to your efforts, and Spectre unable to stop me working in the field means that Venice has been the turning point. Enemy agents have been voluntarily handing themselves into the authorities since it became apparent that we had their measure. London’s been employing some fairly sophisticated counter-intelligence techniques too, as well as the good old fashioned divide and conquer and since we died? Over half of the activity we knew about with a link to the criminal organisation’s been either stalled, thwarted or summarily removed.’


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Nine

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Ronni wakes naturally for the first time in many days, late afternoon sun reflecting through the broken glass of farmhouse windows. Reassuring shards of light scatter across the surprisingly comfortable camp bed, and for a moment she’s back in the Barracks, familiar warmth from brick and earth reassuring a troubled soul. Then reality both of past and present rises to swallow the brief calm: driving away from Marc’s house, crying into Q’s surprisingly solid embrace, hour of revelation before insisting she went and slept. It had been much needed: lying quietly and reflecting on the last weeks alone, even Ronni knew how damaged both mind and body had become. Their thwarting of Spectre at the Violin Museum, the young man’s death in the process plus Q’s breakthrough decrypting Beam’s hard drive meant they’d undoubtedly made a difference. Moving into French territory was academic if they continued in the stolen vehicle, but Ronni’s not sure she wants to draw any more attention to their movements. Uncertain of what Marc would now do knowing she’d taken gross advantage of his generosity, leaving his four wheel drive here and continuing on foot might yet be their best course of action.

They’d done well however: he’d not been joking when bragging over the starter that his ‘complex’ was prepared for any eventuality. The new camp beds were light enough to be carried, canned food and water in plentiful supply so they could last at least another three days before needing to be conspicuous… and suddenly Ronni is distracted, smell wafting from outside that immediately sets her taste buds alight. Immediate fears are forgotten, enough to pull aching body up outside to the high walled garden behind the farmhouse, and to Q, whose latest excursion into outdoor living is ambitious even by his standards.

‘What on earth are you cooking?’

Her travelling companion stands, clearly beyond proud of himself in a kitchen that is so Heath Robinson in both construction and layout it almost defies belief.

‘I am not simply cooking, Veronica, I am creating. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself so much with something other than a computer.’

There is what is undoubtedly a well made fire under a carefully-constructed pile of stones, large, flat metal door from something in the wreck of this house being utilised as an impromptu hotplate. From somewhere Q’s obtained a pan, and at least one decent knife: on the ‘stove’ sits and simmers a substantive portion of what Ronni would guess is game of some variety by the smell, probably trapped and skinned by the man himself. There’s pasta in the mix, plus bundles of freshly-gathered leaves and berries sit waiting to be prepared…

‘How on earth-?’

‘I knew today would be significant, after what happened at the Museum, understand enough about employee motivation to grasp that it being your birthday… the occasion should warrant at least something special.’

‘Where did you learn to do all this?’

‘It may come as something of a surprise, but I was a boy scout back in the day, and rather a damn good one as it happens. I was able to pay other people to carry my bags if I cooked for them. I find this kind of outdoor challenge rather exhilarating’

‘Why did you not say this before?’

‘Because being in the field isn’t a contest, and you needed things to do as distraction. I assure you it wasn’t to conform to gender roles. I just like to hide my skills whenever possible.’

‘Why am I not surprised at this one little bit?’

She’d assumed Q had forgotten, or simply decided not to rub salt into her wounds when already low. Daydreaming as distraction as she’d walked to Marc’s house, that if this were just a bad dream she’d have spent her birthday grabbing a spa treatment, eating cake with Moneypenny, but how deep down there’d be the inescapable ache of regret that this year she was alone. However hard Ronni tries, Bond refuses to leave her. His taste now is diesel: inescapable dirty Viennese water, adrenaline mixed with blood, panic inescapable. His hand, around hers, brush of brilliant possibility devolved into anger and confusion. The ache is so fresh and raw it catches her off guard, closing eyes to prevent more tears because she has to prove she wasn’t lying when maintaining this wasn’t love. Need perhaps, desire quite distinctly, but he was never the happy ending she craved. The job was her wage, keeping Q alive her payoff.

Bond was simply the thing she wanted but must never keep, because when that happened, then there was no need in being the number any more.

‘I’d like to keep the contents of dinner as a surprise for a little longer, if I may? Perhaps you could start packing up the rucksacks for tomorrow, as I’m going to assume you’d like to continue on foot and not risk the use of the four wheel drive?’

If he were here, would Bond be cooking, she wonders, would he have possessed the foresight to create something so amazing and uplifting? In this case, he could learn from Q, that this would be the way to show that really, finally, something significant had been grasped about how to treat a woman. But this was folly, idle thought no longer relevant or required. The Quartermaster was pushing her back to the moment, and that’s where she needed to exist.

‘I like the fact I don’t have to remind you of process, that normally you’re one step ahead of me. On days like today, your organisational skill is positively inspirational, Q.’

‘Andrew. My name is Andrew, and I think we have passed the point where I have the right to be considered your superior, at least in the field. I think after everything that has transpired, I’d rather regard you as my friend.’

Ronni stares and realises that her boss just stopped being a letter, and that this makes her happier than she believed was currently possible. Without hesitation they hug, gesture that is returned this time without either hesitation or care. There might be those who’d argue to survive in such situations that the last thing you needed was any emotional attachment to the people you were protecting, but in this case 004 wasn’t one of them.

Right now, this was exactly what she craved.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Eight

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Waking with a start, Q knows to be alert immediately as he emerges from the car.

The man knew this moment would arise: today was Ronni’s birthday, and that made this entire change of circumstances considerably more delicate. There was a very good reason 00’s were told to complete their missions as quickly as possible, because the long-term consequences of keeping agents in the field was not only well known, but dangerous in the extreme. 007’s predecessor was forced into what many considered early retirement after his detention in North Korea, psychological effects of undercover work well documented on men. For women however, there was no research. Nobody knew what happened, because there simply weren’t any metrics.

He goes to find his protector: sitting alone on the steps of the abandoned farmhouse they’ve arrived at, steeling himself to a task that he’d rather never have to undertake. Body language screams, leave me alone, but Q knows enough to understand that with the right stimulus, that can be changed.

‘Ronni? Would you like to talk?’

‘Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’

She’s been crying for some time, and the man finds himself wishing to be made of harder stuff than he knows is the case.

‘You did the right thing, 004.’

‘Like fuck I did. It doesn’t matter how bad the person may end up being: I still slept with someone so I could drug them, steal their car, money and equipment and keep us safe. Explain to me exactly how that is acceptable conduct for anyone, let alone a member of MI6.’

This is the moment to squat down, to not tower over a woman who’s struggling, and to try and make a point, and so Q does just that.

‘Sometimes… an agent is forced to make different decisions in order to expedite their mission.’

‘I joked about it with him over dinner. He didn’t believe me, I told him what was going to happen and he refused to grasp I was serious and when I did it it was like someone had punched me in the stomach. How does Bond live with this? How on Earth is he capable of using seduction as a means of helping himself when the results are just so horrendously awful?’

‘He makes the women want to help -‘

‘- by lying and stealing? By providing pleasure and then abandoning them to get the job done?’ How ON EARTH is that justifiable for anybody?’

‘Because this is the true reality of that existence. It only works if you start thinking rationally.’

Now is the moment to come sit beside her, grasping his own depth of fatigue after weeks on the run, grateful for protection in a manner there will never be means to adequately thank for. Without persistence and sacrifice they would not have turned the current tide in the fight against Spectre. She’s done so much and because of it, in the next twenty four hours they’re finally off the back foot and back in the game.

‘I never realised how strong Bond really was, Q. When we trained, it was always this arrogant swagger, confidence never grasped. He could just tune it out, forget bad and focus on good. He never cared about planning or considering the consequences, he just wanted the pleasure. That’s all that’s ever mattered.’

‘You know that’s not true. Trust me from someone who’s read every report, digested all the files. All he has, in the end, is the job. There was nobody else, until Ms Lynd, and when that turned out to be a lie… he just stopped caring. About himself, the ideal… everything. Moneypenny was placed to instigate a change, but she wasn’t what was needed. He required a very specific mirror, held up to himself. To make him realise. So he understood what he could do if he cared about someone else and not just himself.’

Ronni stares, taking in the truth Q wonders whether she actually ever considered. It had not just been her training he’d engineered, but Bond’s redemption as an agent. By giving him a reason not to be what he had always been, 007’s outlook had finally changed.

‘Q, are you saying if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with Madeline?’

‘Yes, I am very sorry to say that I am. You gave Bond back his humanity, and the moment he grasped that? It simply found the nearest convenient truth to latch onto. He promised a man he’d protect his daughter, without finding anything else out about the mission he’d been presented. That’s always been 007’s failing. The job is everything. It always has been. What you did was save him from himself, but before he was able to actually understand how he could find true deliverance? He got distracted.’

‘Why are you sorry, Q?’

‘Because this was never just about Bond’s redemption. I’d never truly grasped what the consequences might be for you in all of this, and for that, I am so terribly, dreadfully sorry. I know how much you care about him now, and if I’d known the upshot of my actions -‘

‘Q, you didn’t make this happen. I did. I only have myself to blame.’

Ronni stares, tears streaming unhindered down a face that now screams for reassurance and despite himself Q reaches across, pulling body close, so he can hold 004 while she cries. Once upon a time this would have been awkward but now he knows only too well how much he needs strength and focus, to keep them both alive. He cannot lie, not today of all days. The truth remains that, like it or not, she is less than her best in the field without Bond as balance. How they have emotionally altered the other is abundantly apparent. Now he has forced her to confront that truth, it will be time to deal with the consequences.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Seven

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Dinner is palatable, far more so than Ronni expects: as tiramisu is finished Marc returns from the kitchen with coffee that’s enough to make her aroused simply by smell. She’s sitting opposite his empty space in a dress shirt, faint whiff of the man’s scent distracting: oddly erotic considering circumstances. It transpires that Bulgari is both smart and funny, but everything falls down when it becomes apparent the only real interest is himself. That’s all that’s been discussed since arriving downstairs after an extended shower: his life, projects recorded, how he came back from the US to claim a brilliant legacy and never went back. There’s also subjects off the books: both parents and life before their demise have been obviously and often forcibly ignored. 004 may crave the caffeine, but wants this deception done. However caution still overrides all else: mindful of pushing, because of what might happen if control is even caressed out of this man’s hands.

Two espresso cups are placed on the table; instead of drinking she stands, seductive stare at her host generating more confidence than is currently either possessed or felt.

‘I think you’re the only stimulant I need right now.’

His desire is almost luminous in semi-darkness, candles casting unreal shadows across them both: yet moving closer there is still no attempt to touch or introduce intimacy.

‘I like to take my time with everything, enjoy the moment, extend stimulation. You should feel free to control, use me as you wish.’

This contradiction makes her want to laugh but suddenly there’s uncertainty in the man’s frame, shaking hand placed on the table to steady himself, allowing a chance to recompose. A small smile forms, Bulgari’s sudden revelation at her refusal to take the bait.

‘I like you far more than the other girls. They just want to fuck and leave, don’t care about my needs. You’re quiet and respectful, let me talk without interrupting. I don’t like it when people do that.’

Discomfort won’t budge, awareness of hunting knife next to the place setting: the SIG may have left his leg but is still within arm’s reach. He looks incongruous in casual slacks and shirt, but there are too many unanswered questions that Ronni never wants to resolve. Pushing the pace she looks away, feigning compliance to support the position of submission. His soft, uncalloused hand comes to her face, almost frustratingly gentle as head is shifted back.

‘Don’t be afraid, Veronica. If you spend the night, I’ll make sure you’re very well rewarded in the morning.’

The other hand is offered which she takes, pulled gently to his chest, and without ceremony there is a nuzzle to neck, before being guided upstairs. His bedroom is small and cramped, and Ronni wonders why they’re here and not using one of the larger rooms and then sparks the memory of his parents: perhaps this was always his place in the house and Marc can’t bear to leave. There’s a stab of guilt swallowed without remorse: now is just the time where everything else is forgotten and deed is done.

He’s a fantastic kisser, it transpires: Ronni detaches from reality in this small restrictive space, allowing him to undress first her, then himself. Marc’s body is incredibly lean but surprisingly strong, erection more than acceptable under the circumstances, and so this becomes the dance she knew could be done but had never needed to perform. They move from vertical to horizontal, yet there is no rush to Marco’s need. He’s happy to trace patterns with tongue across breasts and stomach, feel the points where scars were made as she reacts, and after a while there is the demand to be fucked and have it over with, except he won’t. On reflection this is no surprise, from actions earlier it should have been obvious this was a man who worked to his own timetable and nobody else’s. There is a final understanding that if this is going to be done, a measure of control is demanded.

Once it’s apparent he’s only interested in extending foreplay, she pushes to see how he reacts, and blissfully is allowed to roll them over, before producing a condom from the side of the bed. This may have been the intent all along, Ronni decides: happy for her to set the pace, and once protected there’s a moment of lucidity. Once this is over, the last wall is broken. There is no desire for this man at all, but arousal is inescapable; how the two will finally combine never had to be performed in the field. As she takes him inside it isn’t Marc beneath but James, fantasy required to complete this transformation.

In the candlelight it is easy to blur lines, trick a sleep deprived brain: another under and inside and so it is, wondering if Bond does the same. Everything’s a game, in the end; falsehood, deceit and death wrapped around a job that was too often glamorised and never really understood. For every time he had done this, 007 rationalised and moved on, but already Ronni feels the world crumbling, slipping sand beneath foundations that had appeared far more solid. As Bulgari orgasms she fakes a spasm but not tears; no pleasure, simply pain. Then the final acceptance hits: she never truly learnt to do this properly and should have failed her final assignment.

Next time, she kills or disables her target before they make it to the bedroom.

He doesn’t talk post coitally as she lifts off, going to the bathroom for a drink, pre-mixed sedative that Q had provided beforehand. The actions are reflex: pretending to drink, passing it over, watching the shift up onto one elbow as cup is drained, condom still on. In fifteen seconds he’s out cold yet the erection remains, testament to the moment that eventually is covered with a blanket. Showering again, nausea rises and she’s sick against the tile, defiled despite the fact it was utterly consensual. Once she’s dressed, toiletries are also stolen, because if she’s going to act to type, then that’s how this works.

He’s washed all her clothes, still warm from the tumble dryer, and 004’s compelled to go across the landing to check the other rooms. Both are empty shells, spotlessly clean: understanding how other people deal with grief is none of her business, Q’s profiling remains beyond reproach. Then there is the desire to return to Marc from compulsion; removing his condom, cleaning genitalia before returning the almost dead weight to bed. Somehow it seems only fair that she creates an illusion of care, before taking what’s needed there will be an understanding.

Veronica was human, even if now the woman is a shell.

Q waits quietly outside, getaway vehicle already stocked and ready. He’ll have known the coast was clear because, like it or not, he’ll have worked out there was a camera installed in the bedroom. That’s how Marc filmed all his conquests for later viewing, admitting as much himself over dinner. He’d even offered to use it as foreplay but Ronni had politely refused. She expects the Quartermaster to get in automatically, surprised when the young man just stands, staring at her with wet hair. There’s none of the embarrassment or discomfort expected, instead professionalism that is both welcome and comforting.

‘I didn’t watch. I need you to know that. As soon as you went into the bedroom I took it as a sign it was safe and began removing what we needed. Whatever you may think of this job, not everyone is damaged goods or a voyeur.’

As if to reinforce the sorrow building inside 004, rain begins to fall, light shower that is suddenly torrential, thunder rolling up in the mountains, and there’s no more chance to talk as both scramble into the vehicle. This impressive, generically Asian four wheel drive will give them enough of a head start to make it north to the mountains west of Turin, long before the man wakes and probably goes on a destructive rampage. After that, there will be no video to place them at the house as Q explains he’s wiped everything in Marc’s studio clean, including the CCTV feed from the bedroom. Ronni’s glad for the condom regardless of its actual requirement, tuning out as her handler explains what he found in Bulgari’s recording complex. When the bigger picture becomes clear, his care and attention’s simply the front for a deeply flawed personality. Money buys a lifestyle, stream of escorts from Milan, and nobody asking any questions because no-one ever got hurt. In the end, he’ll probably consider the loss of property less significant than the removal of the movie collection.

Rationalising makes the job easier, but won’t hold together the damage the incident has caused within her. As they drive away, heading towards the French border, there is a numbness to heart that Ronni has never experienced before, frightening yet strangely comforting as the sun begins to come up.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Six

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They keep pressing east: Ronni tries to put everything back into proper order, but somewhere between Cremona and Novara where they finally stop it all gets disturbed and damaged. The desire is to head away from the civilised world completely: perfect planning until the following morning when Q wakes her with a problem: the laptop is overheating. Efforts to fix the dual external fans have been fruitless, and they’ll need humanity’s help if there’s to be any chance at repair. This will be the first time a need to directly interact with the world has arisen since their ‘demise’: Q is keen to ensure this thievery, as that’s what it will end up being, is well considered. He locates several possible targets between periods of laptop restarting, deciding on the one least likely to have any associations with Spectre, or indeed anybody else.

She wishes there was another way, but there is no other choice if her partner’s work is to continue unabated.

Marco Bulgari’s fortune is considerable, legitimate and inherited, plus the man is a virtual recluse after the death of both parents, introversion creating perhaps a soft target, were the man not quite so overt in his interests. His largely overrun mansion to the north of Novara is an hour on foot from where they currently sit, and Q will take his time whilst Ronni scouts on ahead. With only a days’ worth of fresh water they are limited in options again: needs now dictate direct intervention on several levels. Bulgari’s effectively holed up in the complex, food and supplies delivered to the gate, all part of a deliberate persona invented for his new obsession: internet celebrity. He plays the role of urban terrorist and fighter around his own home, linking videos to a You Tube channel that include small arms tests, hunting and bush craft. More than seventy thousand people watch his ‘lifestyle’ but as none of it is ever broadcast live, Q decides the risk of exposure is minimal. Ronni however remains unconvinced.

‘I don’t know, this all seems a little too convenient. Do people really create existences like this?’

‘Absolutely they do, 004, you need more time online to understand the future of entertainment. It’s why the SAS has its own You Tube channel: armed forces worldwide already grasp the significance of the platform for both intelligence gathering and recruitment.’

‘But what about anonymity? How on earth do you maintain your cover with the world watching?’

‘You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in plain sight, and for how long. This virtual world remains the Wild West for espionage and everyone’s doing their part to keep the place as law-free as possible. In this case, Mr Bulgari’s entire alternate existence as ‘The Knight Stalker’ revolves around nobody knowing where he lives, which is of course a complete fallacy.’

‘You have any idea how I should approach this?’

‘Yet again, I advocate total honesty. This will work on multiple levels, considering Mr Bulgari enjoys playing first person shooters with a secret agent flavour.’

‘So you’re suggesting I tell him I’m a spy, sent for a night of passion before I drug him?’

‘Well, this way he’s at least not going to be surprised when he wakes up alone and robbed. He’ll probably even enjoy it. However on consideration I think I can probably do better than that, leave it with me and I’ll pave the way. Be ready to play it by ear.’

Ronni had entertained serious doubts around sections of the internet for a while, the fact that anyone would find this kind of stuff entertaining is frankly incomprehensible. As she walks to the house across fields full of ripening crops, the smells of summer in another country reminds of how much home is missed; preferring grime and grit, London in her face. Mostly it is time alone without music or distraction that isn’t needed, grasping life has become almost a parody of how the journey began. Pretending to be a damsel in distress, using sex to distract but never having to worry about ever being challenged, had been the way she’d survived for close to a decade as an Analyst. The point had never been reached before the designation, where someone would have wanted to sleep with her, always someone else’s problem.

There is nowhere left to hide. The thing feared most was all that was left to rely on. If James were here he’d probably relish the fact this walk ended up with a guaranteed night of passion, commitment free. All Ronni wanted was to shoot this guy and steal his stuff. Crucially however Bulgari was as much an innocent as the Museum janitor, or the field agents that Spectre had massacred in Venice. Walking up the long gravel drive in full view of multiple security cameras, Ronni has no idea how she’ll play it, right up to the moment where the door to the house opens and a man emerges in combat fatigues with a SIG strapped to his leg. He’s far more attractive in the flesh than his videos suggest, and seems totally unphased at her presence.

‘I’m impressed, I asked for something different and you’re certainly that.’

The American accent is a surprise, especially as the man’s Italian on camera is impeccable, and Ronni smiles, grateful at least a part of the game can be conducted in an easier language. Q had noted in passing this man’s interest in female escorts from Milan, and if that’s what she is being mistaken as? Then that’s the way forward. However, if he’s expecting her arrival, perhaps another woman might be on her way and now that would have to be considered moving forward. Play it by ear, that’s what Q had suggested: you’re an escort pretending to be a secret agent. This is a way to make it work.

‘Hopefully I’ll fulfil your requirements for the evening.’

‘Oh that’s good, you’re English, this just gets better and better.’

‘I can be whatever you want me to be. All you need to do is ask.’

‘Your name’s Veronica?’

So Q had the escort angle already covered. He’d clearly phoned ahead and covered her arse, and Ronni’s smile turns to a grin: her handler’s doing a better job of comprehension than this man will ever manage.

‘Indeed. What else did they tell you about me?’

‘That you walked here for authenticity, and would appreciate a shower as a result. Oh, and that you know how to fire the Walther and as a result I’d better watch my ass.’

‘I am not what I appear, Mr Bulgari.’

‘No, I bet you’re not. I’m not what you’re expecting either. Dinner’s already cooking, you’ll have plenty of time to get clean. Please, let me get you comfortable.’

The back of Ronni’s neck’s already prickling, discomfort to all of this that just feels wrong on so many levels. Already alert after the last time dinner with an American was on the table, she allows him to take her non-dominant hand, before leading her into the house.

The option to shoot him can then comfortably remain a last resort.


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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.